eSolar – A DIY solar power plant
Soon setting up a solar power station is to get a lot more user friendly and a new technology could change the solar industry. IKEA changed the rules for furnishing a home. The eSolar power plant is based on mass manufactured components, and designed for rapid construction, uniform modularity, and unlimited scalability. Each eSolar module, though, is designed to generate 33MW of power — enough juice to power 10,000 homes. If you need 330MW, you just buy ten modules and put them together. It’s not exactly flat-pack home furnishings, but it’s the same world-changing idea. Presumably, you’ll need more tools than those little Allen wrenches and nifty fasteners IKEA supplies with its furniture. However, you don’t need the heavy equipment, cranes and trained engineers now required to put traditional thermal power plants together: eSolar has replaced expensive steel, concrete, and brute force with inexpensive computing power and elegant algorithms. This new method of installing a solar power plant minimizes costly civil construction and the use of heavy equipment, dramatically reducing project cost and deployment time. That’s a big claim when you consider that a 33MW modular plant needs 160 acres of land — about 1/4 of a square mile. It’s still a job for a trained construction crew that knows what to do when they open the eSolar box. Inside are many identical towers and thousands of small mirrors — each about a meter square in size — engineered back in eSolar’s manufacturing plant — to essentially snap together. At least that’s how it seems after talking to eSolar executives, who are playing the details very close to the chest. They’re promising to show off a portion of a module at a demonstration facility somewhere in Southern California before the end of this year. eSolar says solar energy that is cheaper than coal is the goal. The company isn’t yet ready to divulge the cost of a module, but claims that right now, its solution is competitive with natural gas, which can produce electricity for 9 cents a kilowatt-hour. Between the rising price of both gas and construction,
eSolar sees an edge. The edge doesn’t yet extend to coal, which is producing power at an average of 5 cents kilowatt-hour, eSolar says, though the company expects price parity in the future. There’s now a new $130 million bet on this promise — a power plant that is easy to manufacture, ship and assemble. Instead of putting solar PV units on every rooftop or building a giant solar thermal plant in some faraway desert, eSolar is aiming to provide a solution that occupies a flexible middle ground.